Producer-director Michael Mann has been trying to get this movie made for thirty years. (His co-screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin died in 2009!) But Ferrari has finally crossed the finish line in style. It’s exciting, intelligent, witty and elegant, with a central performance that’s a knockout.

In some ways the delays have accrued to its benefit: CGI has come a long way and enabled crucial scenes to be filmed in credible (and grim) detail. But Mann has done his best to avoid such trickery: he commissioned a fleet of 1957 red Ferrari replicas to use in his picture. With due thanks to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt and editor Pietro Scalia the racing scenes are arguably the most vivid and visceral ever committed to film. Extra applause for David Werntz, whose sound design is a key reason to watch this film in a theater if at all possible.

Adam Driver delivers a transformative performance as Enzo Ferrari that makes you forget who he is behind the makeup and Italian accent. Penélope Cruz leaves both ego and glamor behind to play the car-maker’s long-suffering wife, whose wrath knows no limits.

You don’t need to be interested in racing cars to become involved with this film; there is no entrance exam. What we get is a layered, nonlinear portrait of a man so obsessed with creating a perfect car that he allows everything else in his life to take a back seat, pun intended. When we meet his wife and begin to learn her backstory, the portrait of Enzo becomes clearer. He has compartmentalized his existence life and her wily moves constitute her response. A haggard, unglamorous Cruz never loses sight of the reality of her character, whose behavior is not unreasonable once we know the source of her volcanic anger.

Every actor brings baggage to the characters he plays, but after a while I forgot I was watching Adam Driver and became emotionally invested in Enzo Ferrari. That is moviemaking magic at work, and it’s just one reason Ferrari rates a spot on my Top Ten list for this year. 

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024